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How to Evaluate Sources

Evaluating the Timeliness and Comprehensiveness of a Web Site

Both timeliness and comprehensiveness of your sources are important in research writing projects. In most cases, you should strive to use the most current sources possible. In most fields, new information and discoveries come out every year. The evidence in a source, as a result, needs to be up-to-date, or at least still of importance. If you cited five-year-old procedures for treating AIDS as if they were still used, for example, you'd be wrong. Use older materials only when their value has held up over time or if your research focuses on a particular period earlier than the recent past.

As you navigate around Web sites, look for dated press releases, articles that list specific dates, and other means of establishing when material was published. If you cannot be sure, consider emailing the publisher (if one is listed) to determine the publication date.

You also may want to decide if you are looking for general sources or more specialized information. General sources can be helpful as you begin your research, but later in the project you may need the authority or timeliness of more specialized sources.

As he determined the comprehensiveness of the Taiwan Documents Project Web site, Aaron asked himself the following questions:

  • How specialized is the information in the source?
  • Does the source provide a broad overview of an issue?
  • Does it focus on a narrow topic using highly specialized jargon?
  • Will my audience be able to understand key terms from the source?
  • Do I understand the key ideas in the source?

Aaron felt the Taiwan Documents Project Web site was an extremely comprehensive source because it contained actual historical documents and treaties that he could quote, paraphrase, and summarize for use in his research project. And because he wasn't relying only on this particular site for his research, it wasn't necessary for it to be completely current.

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